Saturday, May 24, 2008

Confessions of a Beer Guy

Though I've not been partaking of the grain much this holiday weekend, I'm an unabashed beer guy. I've got the gut to prove it (I've paid good money for this, so I'm not going to be ashamed of it — though I wouldn't mind being in better shape). While I have no problem with the occasional glass of wine — usually white when I have it — I'm unable to fully appreciate the nuance and subtlety of a fine wine; I simply don't have that training.

So when I saw a press release discussing a book on the differences between beer and wine, I knew I had to comment on it.

The book is called Grape vs. Grain: A Historical, Technological, and Social Comparison of Wine and Beer, and it's written by an academic of sorts -- Charles Bamforth, head of the brewing program at the University of California, Davis, but I get the impression that his book is at least worth picking up for a look see, even if you don't buy it.

The 224-page book includes social commentary on beer and wine, and comparisons of their histories, production techniques, types and styles, healthfulness, and future outlooks.

This Memorial Day Weekend, I think I'll be more likely to do my own personal experimenting with beer than read about other people's social commentary about it.

Here's my social commentary: Crack open a cold one and have a wonderful Memorial Day!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I'm Almost Ready to Start Procrastinating...

Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm a fan of John Irving. Earlier this week, I began rereading one of my favorite books, The World According to Garp, which I haven't read in at least fifteen years (though I've seen the movie several times since then). Understandably, I recall the movie better than the book. But this is one of those rare situations where I enjoy both -- perhaps equally.

So I had to laugh when I found this article in Slate. Apparently, the online publication is doing an homage to procrastination. As any fan of Garp knows, his first novel was called Procrastination. (And I'd completely forgotten that it was a highly symbollic piece set in Vienna and based on the time Garp lived there with his mother.) Again, this is T.S. Garp I'm talking about -- the character -- rather than Irving, whose first novel was Setting Free the Bears. To be honest, the Slate article is fairly boring. Even skimming it was tedious. But if you're looking for relatively unknown writers who've written about writer's block and procrastination (and who isn't!), then it's worth giving it a look see.

But I'd recommend you first pick up your copy of Garp and remember that life is wonderful, albeit occasionally odd, and the only justification for putting off that great American novel you're writing is to gather a bit more experience from which to write. Be careful with the baby sitter.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Was It Good for You Too?

Don't let the image scare you, I won't allow this blog to get too graphic. But the Los Angeles Times reported recently that there's a possible trend in literature: kinky sex. I can't say that I've noticed such a trend in the contemporary novels I've been reading. Sex, sure, but nothing too kinky.

While I'm no prude, I don't feel a need to read about gratuitous sex in the books I read. But if a character's development is directly related to sexual experience, then I think it's certainly appropriate.

Sounds obvious, perhaps, but this is something that is not always easy to determine. One thing that the selected readers of my novel commented on was the vivid details of a sex scene. One of my primary characters loses her virginity, and I may have offered a bit more detail than some (though not all) of my readers would have preferred. My argument was that the girl's experience was important to her development and to the story; she was a teenage girl somewhat obsessed with the idea of sex. She would remember every detail. That's all well and good, my readers said, but we can imagine much without seeing everything.

I think they're right, and I've toned down the sex scene to a great degree. It's still quite apparent what's going on, but I leave more to the imagination.

In the LA Times article, however, the amount of erotica that is involved would clearly alienate some readers. Personally, I want to develop an audience. As a first-time novelist, I'm not sure freaking out some readers is worth the bad word-of-mouth it engenders. Finding the balance between developing readers and developing an authentic voice may be one of the most difficult tasks for any writer.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Would You, Could You With a Book?

First off, I want to call attention to something that I'm somewhat proud of: This is my 100th post on this blog. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, I realize; some big blogs may reach 100 posts or more per day. But The Elephant's Bookshelf is a labor of love and found time. I love to read and to write, and I want to share my thoughts on writing with others. So, I'm happy to reach a random milestone.

Personal backslapping over.

Today, I happened upon this piece in the Washington Post. Apparently, Harry Potter isn't the biggest thing (PDF) since bread with the crusts cut off in the world of children's reading. While J.K. Rowling's justifiably popular series is still a huge best seller, Harry, Ron, Hermione and the rest of the Hogwarts contingent still can't hold a wand to the creatures of Dr. Seuss's imagination.

Also ahead of the Potter books was Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird, proving that the list wasn't dominated merely by books most read by small children. Further emphasizing that point, the S.E. Hinton stories were also up among the top 10.

Weep not for the wizards and witches. The Potter books will stand the test of time. But it's nice to know that children still love to explore worlds of imagination that don't cause their thumbs to develop carpal tunnel syndrom.